Collier (ship)

A collier is a bulk cargo ship designed to carry coal, especially for naval use by coal-fired warships.

Coaling at sea was critical to navies and speed of coal transfer was an important metric of naval efficiency. In 1883, forty tons an hour was considered fast and it would take over twelve hours to restock half the bunkers of a typical ship, HMS Collingwood.[1]

USS Merrimac - 19-N-19-18-4
The collier USS Merrimac

Coals from Newcastle

For many years, the Durham and Northumberland coalfields supplied a rapidly expanding London with vast tonnages of coal, and a large fleet of coastal colliers travelled up and down the east coast of England loaded with "black diamonds". Sir Charles Palmer pioneered the construction of iron-hulled steam colliers at his Jarrow shipyard, which began to rapidly replace the earlier wooden ships. This inadvertently led to the eventual decline of the glassmaking industry on Tyneside and Wearside, as prior to this, they had had access to large supplies of sand, used as ballast in the wooden colliers returning from London. The iron colliers had ballast tanks which meant water could simply be pumped in, greatly reducing the turnaround time as the sand no longer needed to be loaded and unloaded. Coal was also exported to Europe, and wooden colliers returned with goods such as roofing tiles in their holds. The first Palmer-built iron hulled steam collier was SS John Bowes of 1852. There had been an earlier iron hull screw propelled collier, the short-lived SS Bedlington of 1841 built in South Shields.[2]

A notable incident involving a collier occurred not long after the opening of the Victoria Tunnel in Newcastle. The hemp rope which controlled the speed of wagons descending the tunnel to the river from Spital Tongues Colliery snapped, and the wagons landed in the Tyne. The wagons were recovered at low tide, the rope was repaired, and the papers of the day treated the whole incident as something of a joke. Six months later, the rope snapped again, and the wagons landed in the hold of a waiting collier and sank it. After this, it was decided a wire rope would be a better option. This is probably the only recorded incident of a train having sunk a ship.

Loading and unloading

Loading the colliers was carried out by hand at first, especially where coal was transferred from keels which had brought it downstream from parts of the river that the colliers were unable to navigate, but as the quantities handled increased, specialised jetties known as "staithes" began to be built. These were of numerous designs. Some had spouts used for unscreened or small coal, others known as "drops" had steep inclines at the end, down which a wagon would be lowered directly into the hold, minimising the breakage of coal. Some had both drops and spouts. The drops and spouts could be raised and lowered with the tide. Later, elevators began to be introduced, such as those at Bates Staithes in Blyth, Northumberland and Harton Low Staithes in South Shields. These staithes used spouts. The largely intact Dunston Staithes on the Tyne are a good example of this type. In Scotland, a system was common where wagons would be placed on a cradle and lifted into the hold of the ship, but this system was rarely used elsewhere. Two large steam cranes were built for this purpose at the Harton Low Staithes, but it was found that despite their size and power they were too slow to handle the amount of coal that was arriving at the staithes, and were replaced by elevators.

The men who worked at the staithes were known as teemers and trimmers. Teemers would open the doors on the bottom of the wagons to allow the coal to fall into hoppers under the rail deck on top of the staithes, or in the case of drops, directly into the hold of the collier. The trimmers worked in the hold, spreading and levelling the coal with shovels and rakes so that its weight would be evenly distributed. Skilled trimmers could stand with their shovel under the stream of coal coming from a spout or the end of a conveyor and angle it so the coal would ricochet off into the part of the hold they wanted to fill. This was a dangerous job, as the holds could fill with firedamp given off by the coal, resulting in an explosion. More modern systems are designed to be able to evenly distribute the coal without the need for men working in the holds of the ships.

Although, in later years, the colliers faced competition from the railways in supplying coal for domestic use in the capital, large quantities of coal were used at the numerous power stations on the banks of the River Thames, and wharves were constructed alongside them for unloading the colliers. These vessels known as "flat-irons" with a low-profile superstructures and fold-down funnels and masts to fit under bridges over the Thames above the Pool of London. The wharf at Battersea Power Station is still extant, and the cranes used for unloading the coal can be seen on the riverfront. These are fitted with clamshell buckets and in operation loaded a hopper, which in turn fed a conveyor system leading to the power station's coal bunkers. The modern equivalent can be seen at the Tyne Coal Terminal, unloading bulk carriers. Gas Light and Coke Company had similar facilities at its large gasworks, also alongside the Thames, for handling the large quantity of bituminous coal which was needed to supply the capital with town gas.

Alternate uses

In the late eighteenth century, a number of wooden-hulled sailing colliers gained fame after being adapted for use in voyages of exploration in the South Pacific, for which their flat-bottomed hulls and sturdy construction made them well-suited.

USS Langley, the first aircraft carrier in the United States Navy, was a converted collier. It was fitted with a large elevated flat deck, used before the development of purpose-built aircraft carrier hulls.

See also

Vessels of similar function

  • Coal hulks, coal-carrying vessels, often unpowered, that are restricted to harbor duties
  • Flatirons, coastal trading vessels designed to pass under low bridges, many of which served as colliers
  • Replenishment oiler, designed for replenishing oil/diesel-fueled ships
  • Tanker (aircraft), used for in-flight aircraft refueling

Famous colliers

Vessels of James Cook

Other famous colliers

  • HMS Bounty, a refitted collier famous for the mutiny among its crew.
  • SS River Clyde, refitted into a landing ship for the Gallipoli landings
  • USS Cyclops, lost at sea, connected by some theories to the Bermuda Triangle
  • USS Langley, sister to the Cyclops, converted the United States' first aircraft carrier
  • HMS Investigator, credited as the first ship to circumnavigate Australia
  • MV Kerlogue, an Irish collier that survived both Allied and Axis attacks during World War II
  • USS Merrimac, the only American ship sunk by the Spanish Navy in the Spanish–American War, in an action in which all 8 crewmen were subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor
  • USS Vestal, converted to a repair ship and served in both World Wars, receiving two battle stars in World War II
  • SS Wandle, a flatiron collier that survived several attacks in World War II


  1. ^ Brown, Warwick (1 December 2010). "When Dreams Confront Reality: Replenishment at Sea in the Era of Coal". International Journal of Naval History. 9.
  2. ^ The Steam Colliers Fleets by Messrs MacRae & Waine, Waine Research 1990 pages 11–13.

External links


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Benjamin Franklin Tilley

Benjamin Franklin Tilley (March 29, 1848 – March 18, 1907), often known as B. F. Tilley, was a career officer in the United States Navy who served from the end of the American Civil War through the Spanish–American War. He is best remembered as the first acting governor of American Samoa as well as the territory's first naval governor.Tilley entered the United States Naval Academy during the height of the Civil War, graduating after the conflict. He gradually rose through the ranks and participated as a lieutenant in the United States military crackdown against strikers in the wake of the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. He and a small contingent of sailors and marines defended the American consulate in Santiago, Chile during the 1891 Chilean Civil War. He was a commander during the Spanish–American War, and his gunship USS Newport successfully captured two Spanish Navy ships. After the war, he was made the first acting-Governor of Tutuila and Manua (later called American Samoa) and set legal and administrative precedents for the new territory. After 41 years of service, he was promoted to rear admiral but died of pneumonia shortly afterwards.

Coal-fired power station

A coal-fired power station or coal power plant is a thermal power station which burns coal to generate electricity. Coal-fired power stations generate over a third of the world's electricity but cause hundreds of thousands of early deaths each year, mainly from air pollution.Coal-fired power stations emit over 10 Gt of carbon dioxide each year, almost one fifth of total emissions, so are the single largest source of the greenhouse gases which are causing global warming. They are being retired in Europe and America; but as of 2019 still being built in Asia, funded by China.

Fossil fuel power station

A fossil fuel power station is a thermal power station which burns a fossil fuel, such as coal or natural gas, to produce electricity. Fossil fuel power stations have machinery to convert the heat energy of combustion into mechanical energy, which then operates an electrical generator. The prime mover may be a steam turbine, a gas turbine or, in small plants, a reciprocating gas engine. All plants use the energy extracted from expanding gas, either steam or combustion gases. Although different energy conversion methods exist, all thermal power station conversion methods have efficiency limited by the Carnot efficiency and therefore produce waste heat.

Fossil fuel power stations provide most of the electrical energy used in the world. Some fossil-fired power stations are designed for continuous operation as baseload power plants, while other are used as peaker plants. However, starting from the 2010s, in many countries plants designed for baseload supply are being operated as dispatchable generation to balance increasing generation by variable renewable energy.By-products of fossil fuel power plant operation must be considered in their design and operation. Flue gas from combustion of the fossil fuels contains carbon dioxide and water vapor, as well as pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur oxides (SOx), and, for coal-fired plants, mercury, traces of other metals, and fly ash. Usually all of the carbon dioxide and some of the other pollution is discharged to the air. Solid waste ash from coal-fired boilers must also be removed.

Fossil fueled power stations are major emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas which is a major contributor to global warming.

The results of a recent study show that the net income available to shareholders of large companies could see a significant reduction from the greenhouse gas emissions liability related to only natural disasters in the United States from a single coal-fired power plant.

However, as of 2015, no such cases have awarded damages in the United States.

Per unit of electric energy, brown coal emits nearly twice as much CO2 as natural gas, and black coal emits somewhat less than brown.

As of 2019 carbon capture and storage of emissions is not economically viable for fossil fuel power stations. As of 2019 keeping global warming below 1.5°C is still possible but only if no more fossil fuel power plants are built and some existing fossil fuel power plants are shut down early, together with other measures such as reforestation.

Largest artificial non-nuclear explosions

There have been many extremely large explosions, accidental and intentional, caused by modern high explosives, boiling liquid expanding vapour explosions (BLEVEs), older explosives such as gunpowder, volatile petroleum-based fuels such as petrol, and other chemical reactions. This list contains the largest known examples, sorted by date. An unambiguous ranking in order of severity is not possible; a 1994 study by historian Jay White of 130 large explosions suggested that they need to be ranked by an overall effect of power, quantity, radius, loss of life and property destruction, but concluded that such rankings are difficult to assess.

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List of shipwrecks in the Bristol Channel

A number of ships have run aground or sunk in the Bristol Channel, a stretch of water between southern Wales and Somerset. Cardiff, Barry and Penarth were once the largest coal exporters in the world and the channel received significant traffic at the beginning of the twentieth century during exportation.

In 1948 there were 24 known wrecks in the Bristol Channel, but by 1950 14 had been cleared by demolition. One ship, a tanker of over 10,000 tons that was sunk off Nash Point, required the use of 129 tons of explosives by HMS Tronda to break up the wreck.

Redcar Lifeboat Station

Redcar Lifeboat Station is a Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) lifeboat station based in the town of Redcar in North Yorkshire, England. The station is the furthest north in Yorkshire though there used to be one at Teesmouth, on South Gare and another further upstream on the River Tees in Middlesbrough.The station operates Inshore Lifeboats (ILB) with All-Weather Lifeboats being stationed at Hartlepool to the north, and Whitby to the south. Redcar operates two Inshore Lifeboats (ILB); the Leicester Challenge III and the Eileen May Loach-Thomas.

Robert Nisbet (sea captain)

Robert Nisbet (1834–1917) was a Shetland sea captain. He was born on 15 October 1834 at Burravoe on the island of Yell, Shetland. He died on 3 May 1917 at Leith, Scotland.

His parents were Henry Nisbet and Tamar Williamson. Henry was born in 1807 on the northernmost Shetland island of Unst. Tamar was born in 1808 at Houlland on the island of Yell, Shetland.

Nisbet's career commenced at about the age of 17 in 1851. After sailing a year on the Active (63 gross tons) in the Shetland islands packet trade, he travelled south in 1852 and joined the collier (ship) Friendship of Kingston upon Hull (Hull) under Captain Weldon. The Friendship was engaged in Firth of Forth and London trade. For eighteen months Nisbet was employed aboard the Friendship, until she was wrecked without loss of life off Bridlington, Yorkshire.

In the first two or three years of Nisbet's career, all the coasting trade was done by sailing ships. When he was in the colliers between Leith and London, there was only one steamboat – the Prompt – which plied between these two ports.

After the Friendship was wrecked, Nisbet joined another vessel in the same trade, the Duchess of Portland of Leith, which was commanded by two brothers well known in Leith – James and William Barnetson. On that vessel's second trip she almost came to grief. When leaving Leith, with a northerly gale blowing, she collided with Victoria Docks and damaged her bows. She continued on the passage, but it was with considerable difficulty that the crew managed to keep her from sinking on the trip. On reaching London she was put into drydock, and Nisbet took the chance of leaving the ship, with a view to working on foreign-going vessels.

On leaving the Duchess of Portland, in 1854 Nisbet shipped for about a year on board the barque Mary Eleanor of London under Captain Jones bound from London to Constantinople and the Black Sea. Nisbet sailed on the Mary Eleanor for nine months as boatswain and four months as second mate.

The Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856) was then in progress. The Mary Eleanor was commissioned to take stores for the hospital at Scutari Barracks, opposite Constantinople. When the ship got to the Black Sea, all the crew except five left to join the Royal Navy. Nisbet remained with the ship and was promoted to second mate. At that time he was reputedly the youngest second mate in Britain.

At Scutari (modern-day Üsküdar in Turkey) the crew had to build stores, and then unload the cargo from the ship. After the Battle of Balaclava ended on 25 October 1854 Nisbet assisted in burying three hundred dead Russian soldiers in a mass grave.

After the Mary Eleanor, Nisbet joined the Egyptian of Glasgow under Captain Robert Tait. He went on two trading voyages to the Mediterranean, calling in at Malta, Syria, Salonica, Constantinople, Smyrna, Alexandria, Malta, Gibraltar and back to Liverpool.

Nisbet also served for some time in the Elsie of Glasgow under Captain Donald Main. The Elsie was of 1300 tons, and was considered a big ship at that time.

In late 1855, Nisbet joined the wood barque Jacatra, of Glasgow under Captain James McToldridge on a trading voyage to the Far East. He signed articles of agreement in her for a period not to exceed three years. The ship discharged a portion of her cargo at Batavia (now Jakarta in Indonesia), another portion at Singapore, and the balance of the cargo and some coals at Manila. There a cargo of sugar and Manila hemp was loaded for San Francisco.

When three days out of Manila the Jacatra was severely battered by a typhoon, and her bulwarks were damaged. On arrival at San Francisco the ship was repaired and loaded for a voyage to Australia. But carpenters' wages were then very high – $7.00 a day – and so apparently very little was done to the vessel to make her seaworthy.

The Jacatra belonged to Duncan McGregor & Co. of Glasgow, and the owner's son Malcolm McGregor was out on his second voyage in her with a view to being trained to become a sea captain. Nisbet spoke to him about the unseaworthy way the ship was repaired. McGregor agreed, and went ashore. The next day Nisbet and six of the crew left three days before the Jacatra was posted to sail, and the rest of the crew followed. The captain, mate, second mate, cook, and carpenter were left on board. Nevertheless, the Jacatra arrived in Sydney on 15 November 1857 without Malcolm McGregor on board.At San Francisco Nisbet joined a steamboat for the first time – the large paddle steamer Columbia, of New York. He sailed in the Columbia for about six months between San Francisco and Portland, Oregon on wages of $40.00 a month.

In about November 1857, Nisbet decided to return home but he could not get a British ship at San Francisco. He joined the Swedish ship Atlantic of Luleå under Captain C. A. Carlstein, and was in her for almost a year. The crew that shipped at San Francisco left the vessel in Callao, Peru. A second crew was secured, and, after doing another trip, the Atlantic returned to Callao to sail from there to Europe. There the crew again left, and only one Swede and young Nisbet remained. A third crew was shipped and as Nisbet could understand orders and could also make them understood, he was chosen as interpreter. The Atlantic was bound for Cowes, Isle of Wight, and reached there after a five months passage.

During the passage Nisbet acted as sailmaker, and at this time made his first start with navigation, under the instruction of Captain Carlstein, who lent him books on the subject.

At Cowes the ship was ordered to go to Hamburg, and at Glückstadt, Germany the crew were paid off. Nisbet then returned to England, and decided to go to his home in the Shetland Islands, where he would take a three months holiday and study navigation. When he was about to leave for the south to pass the Board examinations, he was asked to go to Southampton with an old shipmaster, to bring home a vessel to the Shetland Islands.

The vessel, which was the schooner Novice, was bought for Captain Arthur Pottinger of Scalloway on the island of Mainland, Shetland. However, Captain Pottinger was unfit to sail in the Novice on account of advancing years. In April 1859 Nisbet was appointed master of the Novice, and on 9 May of that year first sailed as master of that craft. The Novice was engaged in the Faroe Islands, Davis Straits, and Shetland Islands trade.

With this object in view, a larger vessel, the Imogen, was purchased, and a request was forwarded to Nisbet to take command of the new vessel. It was a new venture, and the promoters thought that, with one in command possessed of the energy and ability of Nisbet, it would prove a success; and it did. The Imogen traded to Uyeasound, Baltasound and Haroldswick on the Shetland island of Unst.Nisbet sailed for several seasons to the Faroe Islands fishing, gaining new experiences in that hazardous business.

Nisbet had been in the Imogen for only five months, when he was asked in August 1865 to take over command of the clipper Matchless from Captain James Aitken. He had gained his Certificate of Competency as Master of a Home Trade Passenger Ship on 21 August 1865. The Matchless was engaged in the packet trade between Leith and Lerwick, Mainland, Shetland. For the next ten years, until 1875, Nisbet traded in the Matchless between Leith and Shetland. The Matchless was a well known trader in Leith, and at that time was recognised as one of the finest and fastest clippers sailing out of the port. On one occasion Nisbet went with the Matchless from Lerwick to Leith in 27 hours. Nisbet is reported as saying: "She was a bonnie ship, the Matchless and I think that was the best ten years of my life – the time I was in her."

During the time that Nisbet was in command of the Matchless, he acted as commission agent for the sale of north country products, and did business with such Leith firms as Messrs Aitken & Wright, J. & J. Stewart, J.S. Linklater and J. & J. Tod.

The increased trade of Scalloway on the west side of Mainland, Shetland in the mid-nineteenth century led to cargo vessels running in from Leith. Most famous was the clipper Queen of the Isles of 82 tons, built at Leith in 1845 for a Shetland syndicate. In 1875 Nisbet acquired an interest in the Queen of the Isles, trading between Leith and the west side of Shetland. Nisbet who skippered the Queen of the Isles for many years, proved a key figure in the island service with his long experience of the dangerous passage up the west side of Shetland.

Five years later in 1880 saw the inauguration of the first steamboat between Leith and the west side of Shetland. Nisbet provided such a good service for passengers and traders that, when the North of Scotland, Orkney and Shetland Steam Navigation Company provided a Shetland west-side run from Leith and Aberdeen via Stromness, Orkney in 1881, he was invited to take command of the 254-ton steamship SS Queen. The SS Queen had been acquired by the North of Scotland, Orkney and Shetland Steam Navigation Company in 1861. It was the first screw-driven ship used regularly on the Shetland run.In 1881 a third weekly run began from Leith on Mondays to Aberdeen, Stromness and Scalloway, the west-side service going on from Scalloway to other ports on the west side of Shetland, a service that continued with variations until 1939.

When master of the first west-side steamer, Nisbet organised all kinds of private arrangements before the erection of official lighthouses. A lamp in a crofter's cottage guided him through Vaila Sound into Walls, Shetland and a lamp in the staircase window of Melby House helped him negotiate Papa Sound, a service he acknowledged with a blast on the ship's whistle as he passed.Nisbet was employed by the North of Scotland, Orkney and Shetland Steam Navigation Company for over 30 years and was in charge of various of their vessels, including the St Ninian and the St. Nicholas.

He was a member and elder of St. Ninian's United Free Church of Scotland at Leith.

On 23 February 1860 Nisbet married Catherine Barbara Taylor who was a niece on her mother's side of John Clunies-Ross, King of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. They had 10 children of whom two died in infancy. The family was based in Lerwick but moved to Leith sometime before 1881.

Nisbet, died at his residence, 4 Dudley Terrace, Leith, on 3 May 1917 at the age of 82 having retired from his command some years earlier. His wife predeceased him and he was buried next to her in Rosebank Cemetery, Edinburgh.

Dry cargo
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Mine warfare
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